Courtesy photo

UNM-Taos HIVE will be a new community co-work space.

Digital entrepreneurs, innovators and educators will soon be able to collaborate and create the next generation of digital startups at the University of New Mexico-Taos HIVE, a co-working space and small business support center with onsite and virtual classes.

The HIVE, which stands for Hub of Internet-based Vocation and Education, is located on the ground floor of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative's former first-responders' command center in Taos, and is planning to open its doors to the public in June.

"It is founded on three strategies: education, engagement and entrepreneurship," said Rose Reza, Program Specialist at UNM-Taos HIVE.

"Education is focused on career training and job creation, so that we can have a digitally skilled workforce. Engagement -- we're going to open up the first co-work space here in Taos," said Reza. "We all saw the impact that COVID-19 had on our community, with 70 percent of our population directly or indirectly dependent on tourism."

UNM-Taos HIVE was created to promote new business incubation, access to capital, networking and digital workforce development, in order to support community members as they pivot to new jobs in the global digital economy.

"We have to take ownership in developing this equation towards economic prosperity in rural America," said Reza. "And digital education, tech jobs, remote jobs, K-12 to higher education pathways -- these are all attainable."

UNM-Taos HIVE, a private-public partnership, is a cohort of the Rural Innovation Initiative. A special initiative of UNM-Taos, its core partners include Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, Taos Community Foundation (TCF) and FatPipe Taos.

The TCF acts as a host for charitable donations made to the HIVE in the form of fiscal sponsorship, and offers additional administrative support. The Taos Community Foundation has steered more than $30,000 in grants and charitable gifts to the initiative over the last two years, with support coming from individual donors and private foundations. TCF director Lisa O'Brien also serves as an ex officio advisor to the HIVE Advisory Committee.

The HIVE receives additional support from local civic and business partners, including the town of Taos, Taos Education and Career Center, Taos County Chamber of Commerce, UNM-Taos SBDC, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Taos Main Street, Taos Entrepreneurial Network, MediaDesk, the LOR Foundation and Arrowhead Center of Innovation.

"At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw the need -- people were struggling with their digital skills. They needed immediate help," said Reza. "So our educational team immediately took action to develop and launch digital curriculum -- Introduction to [Microsoft] Word, Digital Fluency, Introduction to Entrepreneurship. We also kicked off 'The Digital Challenge' by Udacity, in collaboration with CORI (Center of Rural Innovation), which focused on three learning tracks -- business analytics, digital marketing and front-end web development."

In March, UNM-Taos HIVE began offering online readiness and computer fundamentals training, with more than 60 community members participating. "And in April, we're kicking off Introduction to Google Platform," said Reza. "That's an incredible tool to help our businesses and leaders engage with other members of their team remotely and efficiently."

This summer, Taos HIVE will offer a grant writing class, and with support from Generation USA and CORI, a program that will assist 15 participants to become IT Support Specialists.

"The HIVE is taking a local approach. It's all about people who live in Taos, Peñasco, Questa and our surrounding communities -- to empower local opportunities," said Luis Reyes Jr., chief executive officer of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative. Reyes sees the initiative as a way to keep local talent from leaving to find work in Albuquerque or Denver or Phoenix.

KCEC donated the former first-responders' command center to Taos HIVE for five years, because it was already built for high-tech digital communications. The facility even has a back-up generator.

"I'm looking at the HIVE to help us get the skill sets we need for the future workforce," said Reyes. "When [electric] meters can be read remotely, do you need meter readers, or do you need IT folks?"

Reyes said he sees the smart-trend in home electronics and wants to prepare the local workforce to being able to support it. "As we get more connected in our house, within a few years, every appliance you buy is going to be Wi Fi enabled. Every TV you buy is going to be smart," Reyes continued. "And I think that creates opportunities, as people put more of these devices in their homes, to create an industry of people to service that."

"We talk a lot about diversifying the economy. We need a workforce that is able to handle that. Those new requirements, we're asking, 'How do we get them?' "And in the end," said Reyes, "It's really innovation."

For more information, visit taoshive.com

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